Is UMNO Joking? asks Heng

Heng: It is an extraordinary time to watch Malaysian politics.  Some theoretically inclined political scientists may strive to distill a few deep political insights.  Events unfolding within UMNO are like scripts written by someone inspired by the Arabian Nights.   Just consider two recent moves by UMNO, namely its Shadow Cabinet and proposal to form unity government.

UMNO recently released the list of its Shadow Cabinet.   Scanning the names on the list, my first thought it was fake news.  The list contains names that will certainly guarantee its rejection by the people.  Consider just only three of them:

Hishammuddin Hussein (remember him brandishing the keris at UMNO’s 2005 annual general meeting)

Bung Moktar Radin (guilty of polygamy, tweeting “Long Live Hitler” after Germany won the FIFA world-cup in 2014, and more recently his challenge to a fellow MP in parliament: “You want to fight with me? Anytime. F**k you”)

Tajuddin Abdul Rahman ( once expelled from UMNO following allegations of corruption; used the words “bastard” and “bloody bastard” against a fellow MP; threatened “to slap” Malaysian Chinese citizens who complained about Malaysia when abroad)

After checking at Malaysiakini and Free Malaysia Today, I was persuaded that it was no fake news.

BN’s Shadow Cabinet

Do those people in the so-called Shadow Cabinet list take themselves seriously? Apparently they have forgotten the famous quote of Abraham Lincoln about deception: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

And this happened in the wake of news circulating and not denied by UMNO that some key UMNO leaders were dreaming of forming a unity government with Pakatan Harapan (PH).  It appeared to receive no positive response from Mahathir, and a blunt “No” from Muhyiddin Yassin.  They are now pinning their hope on Anwar Ibrahim. 

These two UMNO moves have some attributes of a good joke.Can they come from any self-respecting leaders of a political party? Are these UMNO leaders really aware of their duty as leaders? It is interesting to see the response of their members.

The road to Putrajaya by PH has been a rather complex process and journey.  Taking a long-term view, the dramatic shift is driven by what may be called historical forces, namely, the advent of the Internet,  globalization, urbanization, emerging educated middle class, and demographic change.  These five forces combine to torpedo the Barisan Nasional ship.  Is UMNO trying to outdo the great Don Quixote by going against these forces?

A few points are very clear. 

First. UMNO’s old tricks of stirring up racial hatred and playing the religious card are losing their magic power.  The same applies to PAS’s use of religious conservatism.  Some UMNO leaders are aware of the reality, for example Khairy Jamaluddin.  He chided Tajuddin Abdul Rahman for resorting to the old antics in a recent by-election.  KJ tweeted, “This is Umno’s existential dilemma now. Some still use rhetorics like Christian DAP etc.”

Second. The PH leadership should not be distracted by the bankrupt ways of UMNO and PAS.

The way forward for PH is to stick to its commitment to serving the nation and people, to implement its election manifestos as best as it can.  The way to erode the base of PAS is to not sideline the welfare of the people of Trengganu and Kelantan. Instead, the most effective and principled way to capture the two states is to promote their development in a wholesome way.  The annual floods in Kelantan are occasions for party members of PH to come out in full force in flood relief works.

Third. UMNO and its junior partners in their present form cannot function as a good opposition.  This role has so far been taken up by members within PH (like Zaid Ibrahim) and NGO activists.  PH leaders and their fervent supporters must protect the space used by these valuable voices. Healthy debate is an indispensable part of democratic life and rational opposition is an invaluable asset of the nation.

Fourth. The future of those good men and women in Gerakan, UMNO and its BN junior partners lies in leaving the parties and set up a new multi-ethnic party.  The new party can draw inspiration from the DAP and PKR in their days as opposition.  If it eschews racialism and religious extremism and sincerely upholds the interests of the people and the country, it has the potential to play a positive role as an effective opposition party. In so doing, it becomes an asset in the new political milieu.   A healthy democracy needs a responsible opposition to act as check and balance to the ruling party.

(The views expressed are those of the contributor)

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Note: Guest Contributor, Michael Heng is an idealist, an internationalist, who believes that all of us are children of God.”

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